Thursday, October 27, 2011

Moored in Avalon

Before I start a new post, I'll continue briefly from my previous one, as the experience was so spectacular.  If you're tired of bioluminescence talk, skip over to the second paragraph...  I was writing in my last post about the bioluminescence with the seals, dolphins and the fish creating a light show.  That was all true, and much more spectacular than I could describe it.  However I wrote that by 9pm or so the waters were starting to quiet down with the fishing done for the day.  I was wrong on that count.  It must have been that the fish took off for a different part of Prisoners Cove for a while but they returned a little after I posted on the blog.  By 10pm all of the critters were back around the boat and making quite a racket.  It got to point where it was getting hard to sleep.  At 3am I was in my bed trying to sleep when there would be a sudden frenzy of bubbles surrounding the boat which I could hear clearly and it would wake me up wondering if the boat was leaking then a lot of splashing all over.  (If the boat was leaking there would be no bubbles, just water coming in, but I was sleeping...)  The seals (or sea lions, I was never quite sure) would descend into the water, release a big cloud of bubbles under some fish which would freak them out, they would then scatter but as they were close to the boat the fish could only take off away from the hull which may have made it easier for the seals to hunt.  Either the fish were seeking the 'protection' of my boat, or the seals were using my boat as a means to catch the fish easier; I'm not sure which of those it was.  When watching this, I could see the bubble release as a bright cloud of light rising to the surface, then I would see the fish take off from the central light followed by a bright dense light chasing them.  It was pretty magical.

After my night at Prisoners Harbor I moved along the coast to Cueva Valdez under grey skies.  Cueva Valdez is a handy place to visit Painted Cave and was described as the second best place to anchor on Santa Cruz after Smugglers Cove were I first stayed.  I was the only boat in this small harbor all day and night and I was anchored in 40' of water with a sandy bottom.  The cruisers guide I'm using seems conservative but describes the anchorage as 'good holding'.  I was anchored by noon, had lunch and put the dingy in the water for my trip to Painted Cave.  

Painted Cave is a sea cave with a high entrance.   Its the largest sea cave in North America and is over 600 feet deep into the cliff - not down, but across.  The first room of the cave is large enough to hold a sailboat, and in the past I guess some people would motor into it.  This practice is now prohibited, although I can't imagine taking a boat into there and it seems to me that basic seamanship is all that should be required to discourage taking a sailboat into a sea cave!  The cave continues after the first room, going deeper and deeper and darker and darker.  Or so I read.  Back to the topic of basic seamanship...  I got in my 8 1/2 foot dingy with little 3.5HP engine and started out along the coast which had cliffs all along it with rocks right to the water.  There was some swell running, and I was motoring into a slight wind.  It was about 2 miles to the cave which is about 1/2 hour in my dingy.  As I was motoring toward the cave I started to realize that if the engine was to die I would be a little, well, exposed.  I can row my dingy and that's easy enough on flat water, but in waves and wind its not the vessel you really want to be in without an engine. I started weighing the risk/reward ratio and the risks were increasing the more I thought about I turned around.  Oh well.  Its true that I'm single handed sailing down this coast, and some might think that I am a big risk taker - but that's not true.  I'm trying to reduce the risks in what I do as much as I can while also trying to enjoy the rewards.  I'm constantly nervous moving the boat around, which works for me, as I think it keeps me alert and thinking about what to do, outs, what-ifs and so on.  I couldn't accept the risk of being stranded along an exposed coast for something like seeing a cave, even though the cave sounded pretty spectacular ("...the sights and sounds amaze even the most blasé of salts.")  With a bigger dingy or calmer conditions it might have worked.

After getting back to the cove I was anchored in I went onto shore for a short walk and to explore a little cave in the harbor there.  The cave was unusual (from what I read) in that it has three entrances.  A few photos:
Luckness in Cueva Vadez on Santa Cruz
Luckness framed
The sea cave in Cueva Vadez
That night I was hoping for a repeat of the light show, but it didn't happen in this cove.  My only experience of that so far has been the night at Prisoners Harbor. The next day I had dense fog and no wind, so I ended up staying in Cueva Valdez for another night.  The fog was so dense that I couldn't see the entrance to the little cove I was which was only in 300 feet away.  The following day, there was again dense fog and no wind but I decided to motor over to Frenchy's Cove on Anacapa, about three hours away.  The fog lifted after an hour and I even started to sail at 1pm, the first time I had been sailing for quite some time.  The wind died an hour later and I was at the anchorage and anchored an hour after that.

Anacapa is a small island, the smallest and most eastern of the Northern Channel Islands.  I wanted to move over to Catalina the following day, so by moving here I was reducing the distance traveled the next day.

On Monday the 24th, I left Anacapa at 4:30am and started motoring over toward Catalina Harbor on Catalina Island.  It was around 60 miles to my next stop, and there are around 11 hours of daylight these days.  I motor at around 6 knots, so that would be 10 hours of motoring.  I wanted to arrive before dark with the possibility of sailing if the wind came up which is why I left so early.  Leaving the anchorage I had yet another nice little bioluminescence experience.  At 4:30am its dark as there was no moon or stars out with it being cloudy.  I was just leaving the anchorage when I saw a few darts of light approaching the boat quickly from the port beam, rounding up to the bow.  I went forward to explore and saw three dolphins playing in the bow wake, creating luminescent wakes all around them. Cool.  They left within a few minutes, and a bit later one more approach from the other side and stayed for a few minutes.  Dolphins are fun!  The only way I can explain what they are doing is that they are fooling around.  They aren't fishing or doing any kind of dolphin 'work', its just social fun for them.  Its easy to see why so many people are entranced by these animals.

The trip from Anacapa to Catalina was calm.  I saw wind of 7 knots, behind me, for 10 min and then it died away with the wind averaging maybe 2 or 3.  It was a long motor and I arrived in Cat Harbor by 3:30.  Cat Harbor is described by the Coast Guard as an year round safe harbor.  There are some weather conditions which make each of the other harbors on the island unsafe.  As this harbor is considered safe in all conditions I wanted to take a look.  Its also described as having a great anchorage area, with room for either 200 or 50 boats depending on the book you read.  I anchored when I got to the harbor but was having a hard time seeing how there could be room for that many boats.  I anchored in 50 feet of water outside the main traffic lane into the harbor and as the boat moved around I ended up in 20 feet close to some rocks or in 70 feet.  I had 180 feet of chain out which is fine for 50 feet but not enough for 70, but letting more out would allow me to drift closer to the rocks. In the end, rather than re-anchoring I spoke to the harbor master and was assigned a mooring and moved over to it.
The entrance to Catalina Harbor
The mooring setup on Catalina Island is a little different from the moorings in the PNW, there are both bow and stern lines to attach to the boat which allows lots of boats to be squeezed into a small space as all of the boats are kept in-line.  (For non-sailors, a mooring is when they attach a bouy to the seabed with an anchor of some sort and you tie up to the mooring in some manner.  The mooring acts in place of your own anchor and as its professionally installed with beefy hardware, its meant to be a very secure method of staying put...although they do sometimes fail.)  I studied the way the mooring system worked and had a look from where I was anchored before going over to give it a try.  I moved the boat over to my assigned mooring, stopped with the bow just beside the pickup pole, picked the pole up, attached the bow loop, followed the spreader line to the stern and attached the line to my stern cleat feeling very clever; my first experience with this mooring system a complete success.  (More on this experience soon, as I describe Avalon...)  By then it was 4:15 or so and the Harbor office closed at 4:30 so I cracked open a beer and stayed on board that night.  The next day I dingy'ed to shore and walked over to Two Harbors across the island (a short walk.)  I paid for two night, which was $64!  The moorage fee was more than Monterey, or Oxnard ended up being.  Ouch.  Cat Harbor itself was a bit of a let down.  I admit that I wasn't seeing the place at its best.  It was off season so it was very quiet and the skies were still grey - but the place just seemed a little rundown. There is a single restaurant, a bar, a lunch spot.  It has free wi-fi, that was cool.  By the end of Tuesday I felt I had fully explored Cat Harbor and on Wednesday I moved over to Avalon.

For most of Wednesday I had a 10 knot west wind, so I actually sailed quite a lot on my move over to Avalon.  The sun also started to come out on Wednesday, which was extremely nice, as I had been missing it.  Approaching Avalon I spoke to the harbor master, had a little harbor boat meet me and assign me a mooring.  They explained where it was, gave me a little map of how to get there.  I asked for a mooring with lots of space around it explaining that I was new to this still and I wanted room to make mistakes.

Including the mooring I'm on now, in Avalon, I've picked up a total of two moorings in my life.  I haven't read a lot about picking up moorings in the literature I reviewed, and it wasn't really discussed much in the classes I attended (or I wasn't paying attention, which is also likely.)  The thing I learned at Avalon is that you want the boat to be completely stopped before picking up the bow pickup pole.  So, what I did is this: motored up to my assigned mooring and pickup pole; almost stopped the boat completely right at the pickup pole; ran forward to pick the pole up, dragged it onboard, got to the loop and put it on the cleat; started to follow the spreader line back...which was when I realized things weren't going as expected.  The spreader line was wrapped around the opposite side of the bow as the boat had swung completely sideways.  What had happened is that I had a little tiny bit of motion forward still when I pulled the bow line onto the boat, at which point the stern swung out - as you would expect.  If there was someone on the helm while I was at the bow it would have been very easily corrected but single handing I need to not require someone back there when I'm forward!  The harbor patrol boat has fenders all round, including on his bow and he gently pushed me into line while I completed getting myself tied off.  It all worked out very well and was done safely with help from harbor patrol, but it wasn't as clean as I had hoped for.  Drat.  I've learned that if you are going to err, it is probably better to err on the side of the boat having a little bit of stern way on it rather than forward way.  It you were moving backwards slightly as you picked up the bow loop all that would mean is that you would need to work harder to bring the loop onboard.  I'm still learning my lessons, no worries.

From what I've seen of it so far, Avalon is a spectacular stop.  Its sunny now which helps, but there is a real town here and their seems to be a lot to do.  The price for the mooring is $54 for two nights, with 5 extra days free.  This is a special rate than runs from October 15th to Palm Sunday (in April.)  So its cheaper than Cat Harbor for the two days, and I get 5 more free days here.  To be fair, Cat Harbor has a special weekly rate which starts November 1st which would be $66 for my boat, still more than Avalon but closer.  I expect to be in Avalon for at least a week.

Within an hour of my being here, Damon from Gia came over to say hi which was awesome.  I heard a "Craig..." from across the harbor from Jim on Sockdolager who couldn't come over as Karen had their dingy on shore.  I also met Herman and Claudene from Bijou who I met in Oxnard.  I'm liking this place a lot.  More on Avalon later though.


  1. Dear Craig,

    I officially hate you, but in a very positive way!

    I can't pick out one thing that is more amazing than the next but one thing stands out...

    You are doing this alone and your decision making is impeccable... weather, dingy to caves... whatever it might be.

    Fair winds buddy... Kit and I will catch up to you in the Seychelles!


  2. Cheers Roy, thanks for your comments. Meeting you two in the Seychelles would be awesome! However I think I'll meet up with you much before then :-)

  3. Hi Craig
    I am enthralled by nature as well and am left in total awe, The Greatest show on earth. Travel well

  4. Craig - meeting up earlier rather than later is my preferred plan, as well. Thank you for sharing your travels with us - quite inspiring.

    - Kit

  5. Hey Craig.
    Thanks for the well wishes, right back at ya! It's a treat hearing about your travels in such detail.
    We push off on Monday for Tortola. Expecting a NE wind which can pose somewhat of a problem as it will opposing the Stream. Exactly what everyone wants to avoid. Any hoot! I am sure we'll fair well and enjoy the ride. Expect to reach Tortola in about 8-12 days depending on Mother Nature, then over to the Spanish Virgins.
    Take care and we'll talk again soon.